Befuddled companies get checklist for complying with PCI security standard

PCI council releases compliance framework for meeting payment card data-security rules

The organization responsible for administering the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is offering new guidance to companies on how to comply with the rules for protecting credit and debit card data.

PCI Security Standards Council LLC, which was set up by Visa, MasterCard, American Express and other credit card companies in 2006, last week released a document (download PDF) that lists the most efficient order for companies to implement the 12 security controls mandated under PCI DSS. The prioritized approach groups the controls under six milestones that companies can use as a road map towards compliance, according to council officials.

Bob Russo, the council's general manager, said the framework is "the culmination of a lot of input" from various stakeholders within the payment card industry. It's designed, he added, to help companies that haven't yet to start on their PCI compliance efforts and are wondering what they should do first.

The release of the rollout guidance by the council comes nearly four years after the PCI standard first went into effect, imposing a set of data security requirements on all entities that accept credit and debit card payments. The effort to create the framework indicates that many merchants, especially smaller ones, still aren't fully compliant with the standard and need help implementing it, said Jim Huguelet, an independent PCI consultant in Bolingbrook, Ill.

"I think there are a lot of merchants who feel overwhelmed at the amount of remediation they need to undertake to become fully compliant," Huguelet said. That, he added, has resulted in a sort of "paralysis" in which some merchants either are doing nothing in regards to PCI compliance or are only taking on some of the easier requirements, which by themselves do little to reduce the overall security risks faced by companies that process card transactions.

By offering a framework that explicitly ranks the relative importance of the different requirements, the PCI council has finally given businesses that have yet to comply with the rules a way to move forward, according to Huguelet. "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and the PCI [council] has now officially announced what those first steps for merchants really should be," he said.

The first of the six milestones outlined in the framework deals with the need for companies to purge sensitive card-authentication data from their systems and limit the amount of data that they collect and retain. Among the measures that have to be implemented in this stage are purging magnetic-stripe data and personal identification numbers (PIN) from systems and destroying old data storage devices via measures such as shredding.

The second milestone involves firewalls and other controls for securing the perimeter of networks, while the third focuses on Web application security, and the fourth focuses on networking monitoring and access control. The fifth and six milestones include measures for protecting cardholder data via physical and virtual controls and implementing change-control and auditing mechanisms, respectively.

According to Russo, the milestones give companies a more organized way to achieve compliance while also ensuring that the highest-risk security issues are addressed first. And, he said, a spreadsheet-based tool released with the framework will enable companies to plot their progress against the milestones and let auditors get a quick snapshot of the compliance status of their clients.

The release of the framework also comes at a time when an unabated stream of data breaches — including two recent ones at payment processors Heartland Payment Systems Inc. and RBS WorldPay Inc. — is again raising questions about the effectiveness of the PCI standard.

In the past, Russo has asserted that there's nothing wrong with the standard itself and that the controls it mandates are adequate for meeting current threats. Last year, the council added requirements for protecting Web applications and a new standard for PIN entry devices, while also releasing a Version 1.2 upgrade of PCI DSS.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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